Monday, 15 April 2013

The "Politics" of Natural Hair & Self-Entitlement

Photo credit: Viqi French / / CC BY-NC

Going natural is a big deal for many of us. Although something as simple as wearing your own hair the way it was from birth shouldn't be a noteworthy event--as black (mostly diasporic African-descended) women it is too often a difficult lifestyle (not hairstyle) choice, a heavy burden, and a symbolic gesture. It can be a scary but liberating experience for many of us.

After alternating between braid extensions and relaxer, I made the decision by my final year of high school to transition to natural. This was before I knew going natural or even the term "transitioning" was a thing. The biggest challenge in going natural for me was my personal shyness and the fear that others would judge me and/or ask stupid questions.

In retrospect--being natural was a positive experience where I gained a profound sense of self-confidence stepping out of  my (and society's) comfort zone. But in addition to learning how to take care of my hair, I was mastering an identity and developing my creativity.

Just a quick search online will show the ways this experience has changed and broadened the minds of many women.

And then comes the dreaded downside.

Those women who are natural and proud of it...

SO proud of it that they feel they have to dog everyone for not yet making the same life choice.

When I was natural I was definitely telling all my friends about the virtues of going natural (and many of them are natural now) but was I hating on them because they weren't? Absolutely not!


Narcissistic Naturals

Photo credit: DioBurto / / CC BY-ND
This is the problem I (and many others) have with the natural hair movement. The unnecessary divisiveness. I've noticed a lot of people complain on forums of the same frustration. Times like this, people develop that term "natural nazis". You have two major types of those...
* the kind that want to decide how other women should wear their hair

* the kind that feel like there is only ONE legitimate way to be natural

  Too many women are critical of others for their hair choices. Women can be hard on each other in general but why some take possession of other people's hair is beyond me. The reality is if I'm walking around and my hair is looking great--I'm glad--especially if I look extra-awesome and unique against others. So I couldn't care less.

 I do take issue with women who wear bad weaves/wigs. It's especially annoying when women wear hair colours that don't suit their skin tone beyond Halloween or cosplay events. I also can't stand women who wear their weaves because they think it is inherently better than taking care of and wearing their REAL hair. By that I mean someone who is lazy, addicted to chemicals and extensions, believe it is the ONLY solution and they have deep-rooted self-hate issues. Other than that, I think people can do what they want. The reality is that beyond my personal pet-peeves, I truly don't know 9 times out of 10 why any specific woman is wearing her hair relaxed, weaved, or wigged. Therefore because I don't know, I have no right to judge her based on hair.

This is why many naturals need to be careful before making gross generalisations. People need to also step back and realise that having a certain hairstyle doesn't mean anything. I mean--is every loc wearer a Rasta? Some people feel they are uplifting black people by attacking hair choices but if anything you do the opposite. Nobody wants to be talked down to. And quite frankly, having natural hair isn't having an education, having a steady job, having postive role models, or having self-esteem.

It can be a start but in the end of the day--it's only hair.

To have a natural movement, you have to define what natural means. For some, natural means you use natural, plant-based methods to care for your hair. You ask a guy what natural hair is--he probably thinks, "hair that grew out of your head (no extensions)". To me, natural hair means no relaxer. To others it means no synthetic chemicals of any kind including colour. And on one extreme it means absolutely no heat, colour, relaxer or extensions EVER. Some ladies who want to define natural can be draconian. I remember reading a comment on a forum where a woman went on about how this other woman who is natural under a wig "clearly wanted straight hair" and questioned her "natural cred" cause of this.

 Now that's when things have gone too far.

Flat-ironing or wearing straight wigs should not inherently mean you aren't natural. Some people wear straight wigs cause they like the style but don't want to damage their hair. Others flat iron cause it's easy to style in certain ways. Whatever the reason--who cares? I understand that it is silly to spend $500 on fake hair styling as some do. Personally, I wouldn't do it. But honestly--it's not my $500. I'm just worried about whether the hair was ethically acquired (I mean much of this hair comes from poor countries) and I do on occasion wonder about the environmental consequence of so much plastic kanekalon hair in a landfill. I even wonder if these same women are as critical about braid extensions cause those are about as African as you get.


Does it All Come Down to Classism?

Photo credit: JCSU Archives / / CC BY-NC-ND
People need to think critically about hair politics and the way they deal with others. Hair is the last thing we should be dwelling on. There are many relaxed women who hate on naturals for whatever reason so the last thing naturals need to do is return the hate or hate on each other. There is something about hair politics that can be about as destructive as issues like shadism and colorism.

This goes beyond the good hair debate.

This is an issue of class and socioeconomic status. Purely anecdotal...but it sure seems like a lot of natural women seem to be college/university educated, living relatively secure lives, filled with internet access and notions of healthy living and organic food--what can be best summed up as privilege.

The way black people of upper classes tend to have a decided derisiveness towards those who can be described as "ghetto" or "hood" seems similar to the natural vs relaxed mentality. Natural hair vs. wigs/weaves/relaxer seems to be if anything symbolic for these types of antagonisms. In years past, a woman of status would have well-coiffed curls (courtesy of a hot comb) versus the poverty associated with bushy, "unkempt" natural hair. Now natural hair seems stylish, fashionable, edgy and high-end. Compare the educated natural who has had the resources and products to transition to natural versus the uneducated, relaxed haired with broken off edges who still visits the local salon and BSS because it's all she knows and has been raised to know.

Is this not the juxtaposition of status all playing out?

What if I took this argument further, played devil's advocate and turned everything on it's head. What if I argued that the natural hair movement is actually anti-black? After all, natural hair is in the media a lot these days but if you look at commercials and fashion mags many of these representations are on models and actresses of mixed race or with fair skin. What if you could argue the high-end/fashionable/stylish qualities of natural hair TODAY has less to do with Black Power of the 60/70s and more to do with the hierarchy of mixed-race beauty in society? I guess what I'm trying to say is if most wearers of natural hair for the last decade are generally half-white--does that mean that natural hair only has prestige because they (those with "good hair") are wearing it?

I bet after reading this your head started hurting a little. I know my head hurt after writing it. Now I'm confused about where I was going with this. Goes to show how messy this can all get.

Anyway. Judgements are stupid. I feel this dynamic is precisely why we as uplifting, positive-minded women need to stop the hair bashing. Period. 


Being natural is a beautiful, wonderful thing but it does not give one a license to be rude.

No comments:

Post a Comment